Pakistan Taliban open to peace talks, leader says in video message
Pakistan-based Taliban said Friday they were open to "earnest" peace negotiations with the government in Islamabad - but refused to lay down their arms, dpa reported.
The message came in a 52-minute video message by Hakimullah Mehsud, chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - a loose confederation of Islamist rebel groups.
"We have had negotiated in the past and we are still ready for talks but only earnest ones," Mehsud said in the video. "A demand for us to disarm is like an excuse for not holding a dialogue."
The Taliban leader, who took over reins of the militia in August 2009, said peace efforts could not succeed unless the Pakistan broke with so-called US hegemony and introduced Islamic laws.
It was unclear when or where the video was made, but Mehsud mentioned the last week's assassination of a staunch critic of the Taliban.
Mehsud said Bashir Bilour, a regional minister in Pakistan's north-western province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was killed for propagating "a particular ideology".
Mehsud added that the Taliban would continue attacks on other leaders of the Awami National Party, a leading secular group governing the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa province and to which Bilour was associated.
"We are not against any specific party ... we are against the democratic system because it is un-Islamic," the Taliban chief said.
The warning against political forces came as Pakistan is moving towards elections due in spring next year.
In the video, Mehsud appears squatting on floor with a rifle in his lap and TTP deputy head Wali ur Rehman by his side.
Mehsud rejected previous reports in Pakistani and Western media about his differences with Rehman, calling it propaganda.
In his speech, the deputy commander Rehman said Taliban active in Pakistan and Afghanistan were "the same" and they fully support each other in "jihad".
"Mullah Omer is our leader and he will once again rule Afghanistan when the US troops will leave by 2014," Rehman said.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province's information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said Taliban's willingness to negotiate peace was a positive development, but the Islamist rebels had to denounce violence.
On Thursday, Pakistani newspapers reported that Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government would consider peace talks with the Taliban if its chief came out with an offer himself. But there was no immediate reaction by the government following the released was Mehsud's message.